Click HERE to read Part 1 if you missed it. Them c’mon back, Randy’s not done being really smart yet.
SF: I’m wondering how your success as a writing teacher and “how-to”author has impacted your own novel-writing pursuits. What are those, and where are you on that front?
RANDY: I published my six novels in a flurry that covered about five years. I won a bunch of awards, but didn’t really see the kind of sales numbers I wanted to see.
About that time, my oldest daughter started college, I got laid off from my day job, my wife wanted to move across the country to take care of her aging parents, and I realized that I had an anxiety disorder that needed to be dealt with. And, oh yeah, two of my contracted novels were cancelled, for two completely different reasons. All of this happened in the course of about one year.
So I took a break from writing fiction. Right about then, my career as a fiction teacher just took off like a rocket. I’m not sure quite why. The Snowflake method suddenly became known all over the world. I began getting a lot of invitations to teach at conferences. And I began earning quite a lot of money from various teaching products on my web site.
I think when something is working well, it’s a good idea to pursue it. I’ve done that with a vengeance, by focusing on teaching fiction. We moved to southern Washington. I beat my anxiety disorder, which made it possible for me to do public speaking without massive panic attacks. I got a higher-paying job working half time as director of software engineering at a biotech company in San Diego. My teaching business has grown to the point that it’s paying for two of my daughters to get through college.
The only thing I’ve left out in the cold has been my fiction-writing career. I put that on hold and have been waiting for the opportune moment to pick it up again. My agent has been quite patient through all this. I wrote up a document a few years ago on “How I Plan To Achieve Total World Domination.” We talked through the document and he gave me his thumbs-up on the plan. I’m on Step 6 right now (of 7 steps). I plan to make my agent rich someday. He’s good with that.
The two halves of my writing life are starting to converge again. My web site is earning me enough money that I really could walk away from my day job any time now. (As it is, I only work half time, which has left me plenty of time to do my teaching gig.)
With the rise of e-books in the past year, I’m ready to relaunch all my out-of-print novels as e-books and give them a second chance for fame and glory (and doggone it, maybe some real money this time).
I’m also planning to release those unpublished manuscripts that got cancelled. I think I can promote them effectively myself now. Altogether, I’ve got eight novels that I can release this year, if I work hard.
After that, I plan to keep on writing, keep on publishing, and go make that splash I always wanted to make. Total World Domination is just one step away. 🙂
SF: A quick word, if you will, on how today’s publishing environment has shifted, and how digital self-publishing changes the game. Or not.
RANDY: I could talk for hours on this. The game has completely changed.
Two years ago, self-published authors were pariahs. They were sneered at. They got no respect, no money, no nothing.
Today, self-published authors are making buckets of money. As I write this, the big news is that 26-year-old self-pubbed author Amanda Hocking has just signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press for an advance reputed to be north of two megabucks. John Locke has about half a dozen self-pubbed e-books on the Amazon Top 100 in the Kindle store, all priced at 99 cents. Dozens of self-pubbed novelists are earning a good living from e-books.
The world is wide open. There has never been a time like this in the history of the planet, where a writer could produce a book with almost no investment and get it distributed world-wide at no cost and get paid 70% royalties.
This if fantastic! Authors have options. This is scaring publishers to death, and rightly so. The entire publishing world is in turmoil. Nobody knows how it’ll turn out.
In my view, excellence still matters. That hasn’t changed and will never change. The message that you and I teach, Larry, is more important than ever. An author who doesn’t write GREAT story is going to get lost in the flood of self-pubbed e-books. An author who does write great story has a fighting chance.
And I’d add this: That author has a better chance than ever, because she still has all the old options to go with traditional publishers, but she has new options as well.
It’s a great time to be an author. The future of fiction writing is incredibly bright. Any writer can now be judged solely on her talent, not on her ability to impress the gatekeepers.
I believe we’ll see new digital publishers rise in the next year or two. We’ll see some of the traditional publishers drop in revenue, but I don’t think any of them have to die, if they play their cards right. But everything is going to change. Nobody knows for sure exactly how, but everything is going to change.
Except for the value of quality. Quality will always be in style.
SF: If you had an elevator ride with an aspiring writer who recognized you, what would you tell him is either the biggest and costliest mistake newer writers make… or the best thing they can do for their skill-set and career… or both?
RANDY: New writers often fail to understand the importance of branding. When you attach your name to a novel and publish it, that’s an implicit contract you’re making with your reader: “I promise to produce more fiction like this in the future.”
If you violate that contract, then your reader feels cheated. Even if your next book is fantastic, it’s not what the reader was expecting.
This has nothing to do with being “typecast” as an author. It has everything to do with setting expectations and then meeting those expectations.
Let’s say you go to a Chinese restaurant and order their “Buddha’s Delight Vegi Plate.” The meal is amazing. You tell all your friends about it. You come back a month later with your buddy and . . . that plate is no longer on the menu. In fact, all the Chinese food items are gone. Instead, you’ve got a choice between an incredibly tempting “Eggplant Parmesan” or an equally inviting “Chile Relleno.”
Those are great dishes, both of them. But you came to the restaurant to have Chinese food! And that’s exactly what you didn’t get. No matter how good the actual menu is, the restaurant violated its implicit contract with you. And you’re mad as heck. Rightly so. You won’t go back to that place and you’ll tell all your friends to give it a skip.
Consistency matters. Quality and consistency.
When we talk about an author’s brand, we mean the set of expectations the reader has when they see your name on the cover.
If you don’t want to meet those expectations, that’s fine. Do the right thing and use a different pen name for that new, cool category you want to write.
Treat your readers the way you want to be treated. They’ll reward you for it.
(Click HERE to return to Part 1.)
Randy earned a Ph.D. in physics at U.C. Berkeley and is the award-winning author of six novels and one non-fiction book. He writes about “The Intersection of Faith Avenue and Science Boulevard.”
Randy publishes the world’s largest electronic magazine on the craft of writing fiction, the FREE monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine. His ultimate goal is to become Supreme Dictator for Life and First Tiger and to achieve Total World Domination.
Oh yeah, there’s that writing book, too.
Storyfix Announcement: I’m in the process of re-releasing my backlist on Kindle and other digital platforms. I’ve just launched “Bait and Switch” (my most critically-successful novel) on Kindle… click HERE to check it out (there’s a free preview). New cover, too. The entire Amazon page hasn’t populated yet, but you can click here (the paperback page) to read reviews, then go back to the Kindle page if you’re in an ordering mood. It’s a sexy thriller that was named by Publisher’s Weekly to their “Best Books of 2004” list, so I hope you’ll consider it. Thanks. Oh… it’s only $2.99.
On the “Story Engineering” front, check this out from Writers Digest.